I will repeat, yet again, my extreme interest in the brain aging stemming from the fact that my family has had three cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. My grandfather, my mother and her sister all had it.
Although it’s normal for brainpower to decline as people age, it’s not inevitable, studies show. Some people remain cognitively sharp into their 80s, 90s, and beyond, defying the common assumption that cognitive decline is a natural part of aging, according to the National Institute on Aging.
These lucky few, called cognitive super agers, perform demonstrably better on memory tests, such as remembering past events or recalling a list of words, compared with other adults their age. NIA-supported researchers are exploring the factors that set these people apart so the knowledge can be used to help others prevent or reverse age-related cognitive decline.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine using MRI scans and computer modeling say they have further pinpointed areas of the human brain that regulate efforts to deal with fatigue.
The findings, they say, could advance the development of behavioral and other strategies that increase physical performance in healthy people, and also illuminate the neural mechanisms that contribute to fatigue in people with depression, multiple sclerosis and stroke.
Results of the research were published online in Nature Communications.
The living brain is constantly producing regular rhythmic patterns of activity, which can be compared to musical notes. Scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in the U.S., have successfully demonstrated that one particularly prevalent pattern of brain activity, called alpha waves, strongly relates to the body’s susceptibility or resilience to pain.
Alpha waves oscillate between 8-14 Hz, with the peak frequency varying across individuals. The researchers demonstrated how a measurement of an individual’s alpha wave frequency can be used as a reliable pain indicator.
The study, led by graduate student Andrew Furman and published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that these alpha waves could be used to help clinicians understand how susceptible a patient to experience severe pain post-surgery.
A new analysis published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), however, reveals that even though a more extensive formal education forestalls the more obvious signs of age-related cognitive deficits, it does not lessen the rate of aging-related cognitive declines. Instead, people who have gone further in school attain, on average, a higher level of cognitive function in early and middle adult adulthood, so the initial effects of cognitive aging are initially less obvious and the most severe impairments manifest later than they otherwise would have.
“The total amount of formal education that people receive is related to their average levels of cognitive functioning throughout adulthood,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, a researcher with the University of Texas, Austin, and coauthor on the paper. “However, it is not appreciably related to their rates of aging-related cognitive declines.”Continue reading →
Must confess that before encountering this item on Lutein, in the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, I was ignorant of it.
Lutein is just one of the more than 600 phytochemicals in the carotenoid family. These compounds are pigments that give plants their orange, yellow, and red hues, but they are more than just good looking: carotenoids, including lutein, have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. “What makes lutein unique among the carotenoids is that it is selectively taken up into the eye and the brain,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a former scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Eye Health: Lutein is not considered an essential nutrient; there is no evidence you will die without it. But as Americans are living longer, they are experiencing more age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, the two major causes of visual impairment in the U.S. It is much better to prevent rather than treat these diseases, and research on lutein demonstrates that diet could help. “The eye is very vulnerable to oxidative stress because it is constantly bombarded by the sun’s rays,” says Johnson. “Lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin are concentrated in the lens of the eye and the macula of the retina, where their antioxidant effects may help to prevent damage.” Continue reading →
Researchers at Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, recently examined underlying brain networks in long-term cannabis users to identify patterns of brain connectivity when the users crave or have a desire to consume cannabis. While regional brain activation and static connectivity in response to cravings have been studied before, fluctuations in brain network connectivity had not yet been examined in cannabis users. The findings from this study will help support the development of better treatment strategies for cannabis dependence.
The study was published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping (May 2020) by researchers Francesca Filbey, PhD, professor and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive disorders at Center for BrainHealth, Hye Bin Yoo, PhD and Blake Edward Moya.
By the time people reach a certain age, they’ve accumulated enough life experience to have plenty of stories to tell about life “back in their day.”
However, a new study suggests that the older a person is, the less likely they are to share memories of their past experiences. And when they do share memories, they don’t describe them in as much detail as younger people do.
The results of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, echo previous findings from lab-based research suggesting that memory sharing declines with age.
The UArizona study came to the conclusion in a new way: by “eavesdropping” on older adults’ conversations “in the wild.”
Ever wonder how land animals like humans evolved to become smarter than their aquatic ancestors? You can thank the ground you walk on.
Northwestern University researchers recently discovered that complex landscapes — dotted with trees, bushes, boulders and knolls — might have helped land-dwelling animals evolve higher intelligence than their aquatic ancestors.
Compared to the vast emptiness of open water, land is rife with obstacles and occlusions. By providing prey with spaces to hide and predators with cover for sneak attacks, the habitats possible on land may have helped give rise to planning strategies — rather than those based on habit — for many of those animals.
Fatty food may feel like a friend during these troubled times, but new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate – not great news for people whose diets have gone south while they’re working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat. Continue reading →
UNIGE researchers have shown that the decline in cognitive abilities after 50 years of age results in a decline in physical activity, and that – contrary to what has been suggested by the literature to date – the inverse relationship is much weaker.
Someone dies somewhere in the world every 10 seconds owing to physical inactivity – 3.2 million people a year according to the World Health Organization (WHO). From the age of 50, there is a gradual decline not just in physical activity but also in cognitive abilities since the two are correlated. But which of them influences the other? Does physical activity impact on the brain or is it the other way around? To answer this question, researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, and the NCCR Lives Swiss National Center of Competence in Research used a database of over 100,000 people aged 50-90 whose physical and cognitive abilities were measured every two years for 12 years. The findings, which are published in the journal Health Psychology, show that – contrary to what was previously thought – cognitive abilities ward off inactivity much more than physical activity prevents the decline in cognitive abilities. All of which means we need to prioritize exercising our brains. Continue reading →
I have written repeatedly about getting a good night’s sleep. You can check my page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for more details. Regular readers also know about my concern about cognition and the vulnerability of an aging brain because of the Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia in my family.
A preliminary study by researchers at Uppsala University has found that when young, healthy men were deprived of just one night of sleep, they had higher levels of tau – a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease – in their blood than when they had a full, uninterrupted night of rest. The study is published in the medical journal Neurology.
Tau is a protein found in neurons and the protein can form into tangles. These accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This accumulation can start decades before symptoms of the disease appear. Previous studies of older adults have suggested that sleep deprivation can increase the level of tau in the cerebral spinal fluid. Trauma to the head can also increase circulating concentrations of tau in blood.
A new expert review confirms that diet significantly influences mental health and well being, but cautions that the evidence for many diets is comparatively weak. This, the most up to date overview of the new field of Nutritional Psychiatry, is produced, by the Nutrition Network of the ECNP and is published in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology ).
Lead author, Professor Suzanne Dickson (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) said:
“We have found that there is increasing evidence of a link between a poor diet and the worsening of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. However, many common beliefs about the health effects of certain foods are not supported by solid evidence”.
The researchers found that there are some areas where this link between diet and mental health is firmly established, such as the ability of a high fat and low carbohydrate diet (a ketogenic diet) to help children with epilepsy, and the effect of vitamin B12 deficiency on fatigue, poor memory, and depression.
They also found that there is good evidence that a Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables and olive oil, shows mental health benefits, such as giving some protection against depression and anxiety. However, for many foods or supplements, the evidence is inconclusive, as for example with the use of vitamin D supplements, or with foods believed to be associated with ADHD or autism.
Because of the dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in my family, I have an appetite for information on impaired cognition. Following comes from a study by the VA San Diego Healthcare System. Subtle changes in thinking and memory may appear before, or in conjunction with, the development of amyloid plaques.
The scientific community has long believed that beta-amyloid, a protein that can clump together and form sticky plaques in the brain, is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Beta-amyloid then leads to other brain changes including neurodegeneration and eventually to thinking and memory problems. But a new study challenges that theory. The study suggests that subtle thinking and memory differences may come before, or happen alongside, the development of amyloid plaques that can be detected in the brain. The study is published in the December 30, 2019, online issue of Neurology.
Participants had brain scans at the start of the study to determine levels of amyloid plaques in the brain, and then yearly scans for four years. Image is in the public domain.
“Our research was able to detect subtle thinking and memory differences in study participants and these participants had faster amyloid accumulation on brain scans over time, suggesting that amyloid may not necessarily come first in the Alzheimer’s disease process,” said study author Kelsey R. Thomas, PhD, of the VA San Diego Healthcare System in San Diego. “Much of the research exploring possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease has focused on targeting amyloid. But based on our findings, perhaps that focus needs to shift to other possible targets.” Continue reading →
I know I talk a lot about exercise and how it benefits the brain as much as the body. But, don’t forget that good nutrition also counts. Consider these as the ‘neuro-nine’ foods that can help you strengthen your neuroplasticity.
I have written repeatedly about the brain benefits from physical exercise. Asregular readers know, I have a visceral interest in this having lost three family members to dementia. My mother suffered from dementia. Her sister died of Alzheimer’s Disease and my father’s father also was cognitively challenged. That goes back to the mid 1940’s when far less was understood about cognition in general.
Scientific American illustration by Tami Tolpa
Now comes the latest issue of Scientific American with fresh insights into the brain/exercise situation:
People often consider walking and running to be activities that the body is able to perform on autopilot. But research carried out over the past decade by us and others would indicate that this folk wisdom is wrong. Instead exercise seems to be as much a cognitive activity as a physical one….
But simply exercising more may not realize the full potential of physical activity for keeping brain decline at bay. Indeed, our model suggests that even people who already get a lot of aerobic activity may want to rethink their routines. It is possible that we might not always exercise in ways that take full advantage of our evolved mechanisms for sustaining brain performance….
… we have developed a game designed to specifically challenge aspects of cognition that tend to decline with age and that are probably needed during foraging. In the game, players spatially navigate and complete attention and memory tasks while cycling at a moderate aerobic intensity level.